Saturday, March 31, 2007

Professional Ministry (1)

A correspondent asked me about the role of professional ministers in a house church setting. This question raises many important issues. My attempt to answer is contained in the following couple of posts.

Our house church does not have a paid pastor. There is simply not enough work to keep one busy as the people look after each other. I can conceive of situations where a house church might support someone in full-time ministry. A church with several new Christians with deep needs might need someone working full time to help them get free. An evangelist working in a challenging situation might need to be supported so they could work full-time. However, house churches generally do not need professional leadership, because the members will care for each other and the meetings are led by the Holy Spirit with all members contributing.

Many years ago, I felt that I was called to be “preach the word” and I spent six years employed as a full-time minister/pastor. However, when I did further study of the New Testament, I found that this ministry of preaching to Christians does not exist, but is a leftover from an Old Testament theology. I realized that my calling was different from what I had thought. I was called more to speak prophetically to the church and the world, but I did not need to be a professional minister in the church to fulfil that calling, so I resigned from my position as a full-time minister.

Some people are able to establish a model of financial support for my type of ministry by selling tapes and books, or getting on the conference circuit and that is good if you can do it.

I have chosen to work as an economist. That has had many benefits for me. It provides financial support for my family. It allows me to produce statistics that expose the dishonesty and disobedience of the government. It also means that I am involved in the real world, rubbing shoulders with people who do not care about God or the church, with people dealing with broken marriages or gay marriages, with people trying to buy a home for their families. I now have a much better understanding and empathy for real life and real people than I did when I most of my work contact was with “church people”. I still see myself as being involved in full-time ministry (service) to the Lord.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Manager or Pastor

When I was the manager of a large division in a public service organisation, I spent my time doing the following tasks:

  • Going to meetings
  • Organising people
  • Dealing with issues
  • Resolving problems
  • Talking the vision

When I was a pastor, I did these same tasks.

Most pastors are managers or chief executives. If they want to be managers, that’s fine, but they should not call themselves pastors. Words should be used correctly. The people who do the pastoring (shepherding and discipling) should be called pastors.

If Christian leaders want to be regional mangers or management consultants, that’s fine, but we should not call them apostles. The title "apostle" should be used for those who are "sent out", because that it is what it means.

In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, so we should be more careful about how we use words.


Hierarchical organisations are becoming obsolete in the modern world. This hierarchical form of organisation was useful for providing order and control, but tended stifle creativity and spontaneity. In the modern world, this level of control is no longer acceptable, and the world is shaking off the bonds of hierarchy. Hierarchies are being replaced by networks. A strong network allows a group of people with diverse skills and talents to co-operate in a highly effectively and productive way.

The business world is rapidly transitioning from hierarchy to networks. General Motors once owned and controlled every aspect of car manufacturing. It was a very hierarchical organisation, controlled from the top. In contrast, Nike does not own a single factory or warehouse. All aspects of production from design to marketing and manufacturing are done by a network of contractors and subcontractors. Decision making is decentralised. The development of business networks has increased the efficiency of many business processes. A World Bank economist, Charles Goldfinger (great name for an economist) has documented the positive impact of business networks on the information economy.

Al Qa'ida, the organisation responsible for the destroying the World Trade Centre, is a very effective network (though we might not agree with its goals). The network is decentralised, so that it is not dependent one or two key individuals. If some leaders get put out of action, the network closes up and carries on. This is very important for a network operating in a hostile environment. It is ironic that Osama bin Laden seems to understand the power of networks better than the church.

Despite the trends, the church is still very strong on hierarchy and control. "Sadly, the more the surrounding culture relaxes, the more intent some Christian leadership seems to be on controlling the masses through application of authority" (The Prodigal Project).

To be effective in the modern world, the church will have to transition from hierarchy to a network model.

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Love in Leviticus? (9)

Another irony is that one of the most important themes in the New Testament comes from Leviticus.

Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the LORD (Lev 19:18).
We can continue to use this verse, because it was claimed and repeated by Jesus.

Jesus replied: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind." This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments" (Matt 22:37-40).
This command is quoted seven times in the New Testament, by Matthew, Mark, Luke, Paul and James (Matt 19:19; Matt 22:39; Mar 12:31-33; Luke 10:27; Rom 13:9-10; Gal 5:14; Jam 2:8). John never quoted this command, but he certainly imbibed it, because both his gospel and his letters focus on the theme of love.

The second greatest commandment comes from Leviticus. This shows the graciousness of God. Even while giving laws to protect the children of Israel from evil, he pointed forward to the time when these laws would be made redundant by the death of his Son.

This also shows that the Holy Spirit has a sense of humour. He put the verse of scripture that we love to love in the book that we hate to love.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Love Leviticus? (8) - Redundant but Useful

The book of Leviticus was given to the people of Israel to shape their lives in the time before Jesus came to earth and changed things forever. The instructions of Leviticus are not mandatory for Christians, as they are not relevant in the modern world.

Despite this change, Leviticus can still be useful for Christians. Many of the passages in the book point us towards Jesus. We can only understand the full meaning of his death, by understanding the sacrifices that he fulfilled. We might also gain insights about applying the other passages of the Torah. However, the laws of Leviticus are not to be applied in modern society.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Love Leviticus? (7) - Homosexuality

My approach to Leviticus creates an interesting problem for some Christians. The only Old Testament laws against homosexuality are contained in the book of Leviticus. A man who has sexual relations with another man was to be put to death. This requirement was designed to protect Israel against the spirit of lust. Their only weapon against this spirit was to drive all sexual immorality underground or eliminate it from the nation.

This homosexuality law is not required now, as the cross of Jesus has dealt with all sexual sin and defeated the demonic powers behind it. Christians are fully protected from all demonic powers, provided they abide in Christ. It also means that they have to go to the New Testament for scriptures opposing homosexuality. We cannot use the reference in Leviticus, because it is no longer relevant.

I find it ironic that Christians reject many of the requirements of Leviticus, because they are harsh, yet they want to retain the harsh treatment of homosexuals. A more consistent approach is to accept that all of the laws in Leviticus have been made redundant by the cross.

More on Homosexuality.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Love Leviticus? (6) - Protection from Sexual Evil

Leviticus 18-20 deals with sexual activity. Canaan had become a stronghold for the demonic powers linked with sexual immorality. The penalties for sexual immorality are harsh, but they were designed to prevent the Israelites from being polluted and defiled. Chalal, the Hebrew word for pollute, is used five times in these chapters. The following verses expand this theme.

Do not defile yourselves in any of these ways, because this is how the nations that I am going to drive out before you became defiled. Even the land was defiled; so I punished it for its sin, and the land vomited out its inhabitants (Lev 18:24-25).

You must not do any of these detestable things, for all these things were done by the people who lived in the land before you, and the land became defiled. And if you defile the land, it will vomit you out as it vomited out the nations that were before you (Lev 18:26-28).

Everyone who does any of these detestable things—such persons must be cut off from their people (Lev 18:29).

Do not follow any of the detestable customs that were practiced before you came and do not defile yourselves with them (Lev 18:30).

The Israelites and their families were very vulnerable to the spirit of lust that had been rampant in the land. Their only protection for their family life was to stamp out all sexual immorality.

The situation is totally different now that Christ has come. People can now delivered from sexual evil the name of Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. We no longer need to stamp out all sexual immorality, because we have much better protection through the cross of Jesus. He was able to eat and drink with prostitutes and sinners without fear. We can do the same because we have the protection of the blood of Jesus. We no longer need to separate ourselves physically in like the Israelites.

The power of the cross did not exist in Old Testament times, so separation and destruction of evil was their only protection. Rather than condemning Israel for being harsh, we should be grateful that we have better protection.

Friday, March 23, 2007

Love Leviticus? (5) - Protection from Evil Spirits

The provisions of Leviticus seem quite harsh. The reason is that Israel need protection from the hostile environment in which they were living. Jesus had not yet died for their sins, so they had no spiritual protection from demonic attacks. The Holy Spirit had not transformed their lives, so they had no ability to cast our evil spirits. When King Saul was attacked by a spirit there was no cure. He was calmed by David’s singing, but he could never escape the torment (1 Sam 16:14-23).

Entering the Promised Land was very risky for people without spiritual protection. The wickedness of the Canaanites has increased enormously, filling the land with evil spirits. Caanan had become the haunt of every foul spirit you could think of. Their only protection from evil spirits was to keep separate from people who carried them. Purging all evil people from the land was the safest way to get rid of the demonic powers had brought in.

God required Israel to kill all the inhabitants of the land they were entering, because allowing the Canaanites to live among them would mean allowing these evil spirits to continue their activity. By purging the inhabitants of Canaan, they could get rid of most the demonic activity that dominated the region.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Love Leviticus? (4) - Love Distinctive

Holiness through culture separation is no longer relevant. Christians have been born again and given a new heart by the Holy Spirit. This makes it possible for us to actually be different. The thing that marks Christians off from other people is their love for one another.

By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another (John 13:35).
Love is a much better distinctive, but it was not possible before the coming of Jesus. The Holy Spirit had not been poured on all people, so Israel had to rely on external differences to mark themselves off from other nations.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Love Leviticus? (3) - Cultural Separation

The rules given in Leviticus were designed to keep Israel separate from the rest of the world. While they were slaves in Egypt, the Israelites were forced to live together in one place. They were shut out of life in Egypt, but this protected them from the influence of Egyptian culture. Once they moved into the Promised Land, this protection was gone. The risk of losing their identity was enormous. They needed a way to protect themselves from the influence of the surrounding nations.

The book of Leviticus contained a set of rules and regulations that would give Israel a unique identity. This would keep them distinct from the nations round them. Leviticus is all about separation and holiness.

Being holy is about being different. The children of Israel would dress differently and eat differently. Their society would be organised differently. These distinct cultural patterns would keep them separated from other cultures that might influence them.

This is why many of the rules in Leviticus are about external behaviour. The best way to establish a distinct cultural identity is to live and behave differently from those around you. This is stated throughout the book.

You are to be holy to me because I, the LORD, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my own (Lev 20:26).

You must keep the Israelites separate from things that make them unclean, so they will not die in their uncleanness for defiling my dwelling place, which is among them (Lev 15:31).
By dressing differently and eating different food, they were able to remain distinct.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Love Leviticus? (2) - How To Manuals

A common Hebrew phrase in the book of Leviticus is “Zoth Torah”. It is usually translated as “This is the law of” or “This is the regulations for”. An example is Leviticus 7:1.

These are the regulations for the guilt offering, which is most holy.
A better translation would be “How To”. Leviticus 7:1-10 is the “How To” for the guilt offering.

The book of Leviticus includes a whole lot of How To’s. There is a How To for each of the offerings. There is also a How To for the consecration of priests, a How To for holy food, a How To for child birth, a How To for skin diseases and a How To for religious feasts.

The phrase Zoth Torah is also used in the book of Numbers. There is a How To for jealousies, a How To for Nazarites, a How To for water of cleaning, and a How To for dead bodies.

Rather than describing these as laws, it is more correct to see them as How To’s or Instruction Manuals for the Israelites. They applied to the lives of the Israelite nation. They are not universal commands for everyone everywhere.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Love Leviticus? (1)

The Torah is really important for a biblical approach to economics and politics. The toughest part of the Torah to interpret, for those who love the scriptures, is the book of Leviticus. The reason that we struggle with this book is that we we want to take it seriously, but do not understand its purpose. This series of posts will explain the purpose of this obscure book and describe how we should use it.

The first thing to notice is that the book of Leviticus was specifically directed to the nation of Israel. The book begins with God directing Moses to speak to the Israelites.

The LORD called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting. He said, “Speak to the Israelites... ” (Lev 1:1-2).

The phrase “Speak to the children of Israel” is used in over half of the chapters of the book (1:2, 4:1, 7:28, 11:1, 12:1, 15:2, 18:1, 20:1, 23:2, 25:1, 27:1). In several other chapters, Moses was told to “Speak to the children of Aaron” (a reference to the priests). This indicates that the book of Leviticus was specifically for the people of Israel.

The book focuses on the tabernacle, sacrifices, diseases, food, sabbaths, priests and feasts that were for Israel only. These things all contributed the uniqueness of Israel, but they have been fulfilled by Jesus, so they are not mandatory for Christians in the modern world.

The purpose of Leviticus is confirmed in the final chapters.
These are the decrees, the laws and the regulations that the LORD established on Mount Sinai between himself and the Israelites through Moses (Lev 26:46).
The instructions and requirements outlined in the book govern the relationship between God and Israel. They are not universal. This message is confirmed in the final verse of the book.
These are the commands the LORD gave Moses on Mount Sinai for the Israelites (Lev 27:34).

Friday, March 16, 2007

What will it Take?

What will it take
to take this nation back?
What will it take?

What will it take?
More of the same
will produce more of the same?
What will it take?
More than revival?

It will take a revolution
a revolution in the nation
a revolution in the church

Jesus resurrection was a revolution
the dead rose
the principalities fell
the earth shook
the kings collapsed.

Get ready for the revolution
Get ready for the resurrection revolution
Get ready for the revolution that will take the nation back.

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Do we Need the Government? (11) - For Two Groups?

The civil government benefits two groups of people.

  • Many people benefit from their largesse. These are the people who keep them in power.
  • The administrative elite who are employed by the government also benefit. They are the ones who benefit most.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Do we Need the Government? (10) - Making Laws?

Most people believe that we need the government to make laws.

God is our law-giver (Is 33:22). That is about the best that anyone can get.

Laws are limited in what they can achieve. Laws can restrain the worst evil, but that is all. There are more than enough laws in the world, and most are ignored. I am not sure that we gain much from inviting politicians to make more laws.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Do we Need the Government? (9) - Building Roads?

Some people believe that we need the government to build roads.

Actually most new streets in cities are built by property developers. Most new roads and highways are built by private contractors. The government (local and central) only maintains roads and streets that they taken over after they have been built by others. Roads are often not maintained as well as they were built, so this does not inspire confidence in government.

Some argue that we need to government to pay for roads. The problems with government funded roading are evident in every large city. Whenever the price of a good or service is set to zero, demand escalates. People have to queue to get the good or service. In the Soviet Union the price of bread was set too low, so there was not enough bread available to supply needs. Queues for bread were common.

In most large cities, the price for travelling on many highways has been set to zero. The result is that many people are queuing to use the highway. We call this traffic congestion, but it is really just a queue for a government-provided service for which the price has been set to low. The economic phenomenon is no different to the bread queue in the Soviet Union.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Do we Need the Government? (8) - Controlling the Money Supply

Many people believe that we need the someone to control the supply of money.

Governments used to believe that they could do this. Now they realise that they cannot control the supply of money, and the best that they can do is set interest rates. But even this is to much for them. The interest rate represents the price of that a society puts on the future. The chances of a politician getting the price of the future right are fairly slim, given that only God knows the future.

Governments will generally set the interest rate too high or to low.

For more on money see Money.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Do we Need the Government? (7) - Running the Economy

A common answer is that we need the government to run the economy.

Even if the economy does need running (and that is not proved), the evidence that governments can run an economy successfully is fairly sparse. There are plenty of counter examples of government stuffing things up. Those in power usually end up lining their pockets at the expense of their people.

According to the book of Deuteronomy the state of the economy fluctuates according to the righteousness of the people. A decline in the economy is a warning to turn back to God. By attempting to prevent economic downturns, the state is attempting to hold back the tide of sin. In the end it will fail.

Rather than relying on the government to boost the economy is unnecessary. It is easier and more effective to love God.

Saturday, March 10, 2007

Do we Need the Government? (6) - Protection from Poverty

Some people believer that we need the government to care for us if we fall into poverty. Actually various options are available for people who are afraid of poverty.

  • Insurance allows people to share the risk of irregular invents
  • Insurance allows people choose the level of risks that they want protection from.
  • Families should provide for those in poverty.
  • Deacons in the church will often help those who are poor.
  • Belonging to a caring community is a good option.
  • Someone might feel sorry for you.

Government have put enormous resource into caring for the poor. Their efforts have tended to increase the amount of poverty in the world, so I doubt that they are a viable solution. They also take a large share of income to do something fairly ineffective, so I am not certain that this is a good reason for government.

Friday, March 09, 2007

I am Back

For the last three weeks I have been forced into silence.
I have not gone into a monastery.
I have not been sick.
I have not lost interest in economic and political issues.

No. I moved house. Actually that was the easy bit. It only took a couple of days. The hard bit was getting the Internet connected at my new home. I had moved out of the area with cable access, so I had to change to ASDL. That seemed to make the whole process incredibly difficult.

I phoned my ISP a week before the move and was told there would be no problem. Their customer services manage wrote a nice letter saying that I would be connected to broadband a week after my new phone line was connected. That seemed like a long time in the informatin age, but I knew I would be busy unpacking, so did not worry.

The phone was connected as soon as we moved. Ten days went by and still no Internet connection. I got on the phone. I had too listen to canned music for twenty minutes before, I got through to the call centre. Eventually I got to speak to a charming young woman, who could read from a script, but could not tell me why I was not connected or when I would be connected. This happened several times. On one occasion, I was told that there was a ten minute wait to speak to the person who could answer my questions. After trying politeness several times, I eventually tried being rude, but that did not make much difference.

Eventually, on Wednesday a courier delivered a new modem. A letter from the ISP explained how to connect, but said I should use a userid and password that they had emailed to me. Duh!!! I did not have an internet connection, so how did they expect me to read their email.

I could not bear another dose of canned music, so I visited a friend to read my email and get my password. After a three week delay, I am no back in action. This does not really seem like the information age. And I am not sure what words like "service", "provider" and "customer services" mean. I have not seen much of any of these.

It certainly hows that the bureaucratic disease is not limited to the civil government. It also afflicts large Australian telecommunications companies.

The good thing is that I do not have the shakes and I did not break into cold sweats while I was cut off from cyberspace. This shows that I am not addicted to the Internet, as some of my friends and family have suggested.